Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Year 1955

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

“Many people are not actually homemakers anymore and there is no positive portrayal of it or discussion of it. It is often seen as degrading or limiting to women. It is a shame, as the home is the base to build future people for a better world.”

Author and time-traveler of the “My Year 1955” blog, is sharing her passion for that old time 1955 homemaker lifestyle. Learn , enjoy, and get inspired as this 50’s Gal discovers the beauty and challenges of being a successful homemaker.

This time-traveling homemaker lives in Massachusetts on Cape Cod with her husband, three dogs, and parakeet. “I am a full-time homemaker which means I am a chef, an interior decorator, a psychologist, a domestic, an artist, gardener, landscape designer, builder, handyman, and, quite honestly, the list goes on!”

50’s Gal started "My Year 1955", a year-long project to see what it would be like to live as a 1955 homemaker within the confines of what is possible in modern times. Other reasons for starting her project have to do with her curiosity and love of history - history of everything from fashion, to domesticity, to political thought. “It was a way to really immerse myself into a specific year in history in a decade that has much 'mystique' about it. It has since begun to be a life-style change and a new way of thinking and living.”

Her fascination with the 50’s vintage era started when she was planning a party with a 1950's theme. “It just struck a note for me, and since then, I found the decade. So many things are expected, blamed, cherished, mocked, adored, copied from this one decade that it seems almost to be a sort of Camelot and Avalon rolled into one.”

She documents her project in her "My Year 1955" blog, which she refers to as her public companion to her project. “I discuss things I have done or would like to do as a homemaker. I always try to feature 'current' news pertinent to that day in 1955. In this research I have really begun to see how it is that we have arrived where we are today in 2009. I often include recipes I have tried with variations I like to make. Sewing, cleaning, gardening, decorating, all of these are incorporated in my blog. I sort of like to treat it as if I am publishing a small magazine for a vintage homemaker, though I have no staff save myself. I encourage anyone to drop by and I really consider it all our blog, as I have learned much as I know other readers have from the comments from readers. I like to call it our international vintage coffee klatch. So, stop on by!”

“My Year 1955” project, begun on January 1, 2009, which became January 1, 1955. “I think I remember feeling giddy and excited when I awoke. Christmas was not that long ago, so I sort of had that familiar Christmas morning feeling one has as a child. The excitement of 'I wonder what will be awaiting me downstairs'. The first day was really probably the most magical on some level, although I think I have grown so much in the past three months that is seems years away. I remember the joy of feeling I was allowed to wear my hat and gloves and petticoat out to do my marketing.”

She began to plan for the project during the month of December, 2008. In her pre-project she began gathering items such as vintage coffee maker and dishes, hats and dresses etc. “I had dressed vintage sometimes in the past, but I really saved all of these things for this first day of 1955. I even had set up my kitchen on new years day night, so that when I awoke I would find a 1950's kitchen. I think I initially reached to use the microwave, it is built in and could not be removed for the project unfortunately, as I used to use it to cook bacon and had to stop myself. Really, that first day was so full of promise, but looking back only three months I feel I really have lived a lot of life since then. I have learned so much and am still on the verge of hoping learning so much more.”

Her project's rules requires her to try and maintain as much 1950’s as is realistically possible. “I find this easier in some areas, such as dress. As I have collected up enough things to wear vintage clothes, this is the easiest and often most fun part of the project.”

Here is a general list of “My Year 1955” rules:

1. Only vintage appliances and dishes. Only what was available then, which is surprisingly much of what we have today. (One exception is the microwave. It came out in 1955 but would be equivalent to around $5000.00 in modern money!)

2. Vintage clothing including stockings and garters and undergarments. Through reading my vintage magazines I did find that not all women were wearing pearls and dresses while cleaning their homes.

3. Limited computer use (for my blog and research).

4. No modern TV or movies. Anything up to and before 1955 in movies and TV and books.

5. No debit cards or credit cards, cash and checks only. This has been the hardest so far and the most often broken. Although I do not use credit cards in the modern world, the debit card has become a spending crutch for me.

At first, 50’s Gal would type up her blogs on one of her husbands vintage typewriters and he would post for her on the internet. But she now feels so close to her blogger friends and it has become an important element and tool in the project. “Originally it had been about authenticity, now it is about discovery. Finding out why people did and thought. What news they read and what they saw in their magazines and on their TVs. The project has sort of grown beyond a need of restrictive rules and more into discovering how by letting go of some things for this project, it is actually enriching my life and may be a good idea for anyone today, [whether] it is 1955 or 2009.”

50’s Gal homemaker duties pertain to the home and garden. “I am responsible for meal planning and food buying. I do all the laundry and maintain the home.” She feels that cleaning and decorating her home is her responsibility and her domain. A typical week for her is as follows:

Everyday: Make beds, sweep and mop kitchen floor, tidy rooms, and put away any accumulated clutter from the previous night. Meal planning and prep work for breakfast, a packed lunch for hubby, and dinner and dessert. Dishes.

Monday: Laundry day (though this does involve a machine and dryer, as they did have them in 1950s it is still an all day chore). For now it involves such things as table linens (tablecloths and napkins) shower curtains, and can include various sofa covers, etc. I am more thorough now and try to follow the practices in my vintage home keeping manuals. This is often a day that I may bake for the next few days as I am pretty much home all day with the laundry. I also plan and make my schedule for the week on Monday.

Tuesday: Ironing. This is separate from wash day for me, as it would be too tedious to do it the same day. Although old ironing practices have you wrapping things damp with starch and placing in the fridge, I simply collect up a basket of things needed ironing on Monday to address on Tuesday - shirts, skirts, sheets, table linens, etc.

Wednesday: Clean bathrooms and do all floors.

Thursday: sewing and mending. I am beginning to make my own clothing and am now not putting as many things in the rag bag, but instead am fixing socks and holes to keep a garment longer. A 1955 homemaker can not throw out a shirt and go to old navy and replace it for 5 dollars. Respect of clothing and repair and respect of ones budget is important and thus is reflected in mending over buying new to replace.

Friday: Marketing for the coming week. Baking again. Every other Saturday my friend and I switch turns at a Vintage dinner. When it is my turn, I use Friday to plan and make out the meal and goodies we will share as a group Saturday evening.

Saturday and Sunday: Are often open to various things that got put off or need re-addressing from the week. My hubby is off and we like to have time together. I usually plan a fairly large Breakfast/Brunch (bacon and eggs and kedgeree, tomatoes and sausage waffles and or pancakes) Sunday that we eat later in the morning as it is our 'sleep in day'. I would like to make this schedule more specific and now with spring coming, yard work and gardening will be added to the list.

50’s Gal said that her best housewife attribute would be her creativity, and that her co-attribute is her ability to just charge into something full speed. “I think these two qualities that are inherent in my personality really are a boon to a homemaker. The vast skill-set and immense demands required for this profession require much creative thinking. To make a home and not just a house, one has to be a bit of a dreamer and, of course, a doer. You have to visualize how you see your home and then have the creative abilities to carry it out."

She also added being a creative and daring homemaking can be one of the most adventurous professions and truly rewarding. And that many people may scoff at homemaking today, and that is because they do not know what it actually is.

And like any other homemaker, 50’s Gal also have her bad days. “Certainly I have bad days or may not feel like doing something, like ironing, but before going to sleep and upon waking I have a very real sense of purpose. The managing and growing and caring for a household, though it is only right now a household of two, is a challenge, but one of interest and activity.”

Her project had made her realize some realities.“ I think the only thing I dislike about it so far has been that I cannot actually go there. There is a yearning, I think many of us who love vintage, have. But, I am beginning to see this is not a yearning for the past or people we don't know, but a need to make a new kind of future. A new sense of place in one's community and family that is really lacking. That gives me hope and makes me less melancholy for an actual time-machine.”

There are many things that this 50’s Gal likes about her 1955 experience. “I like that moment in the morning when the coffee begins to perk away and the bacon sizzles and fills the kitchen with its aroma. The simple pride I feel at breakfast when I sit down to a full meal of hot food and coffee with linen napkins and have an half an hour good discussion with my husband before he leaves for work. The late afternoon in my studio with the sun streaming in, my dogs asleep on the little yellow sofa, my parakeet singing away, and my books and magazines spread out before me, a cup of tea and my notebook. My pen poised to check off things I wish to share with my readers, or that recipe I want to try, oh, yes, there is that sauce I have been meaning to get to. The kitchen table littered with books and magazines propped open, bowls and pans strewn about, a mixer in my hand, mad scientist at work on some new concoction. The quiet serenity of freshly cleaned counters and newly mopped floors. The feel of clean ironed sheets that make one feel a guest in a fine hotel of which you have never to check out. There are lots of little moments in the day of a homemaker that are little vignettes of happy busy solitude. If they could be captured or framed up as art, I am sure they would be not unlike something by Currier & Ives or Norman Rockwell.”

She shares some of her favorite vintage things and inspiration. "I love the movie Mr. Blandings Builds a Dream House, as it just sort of hits a note with me. I can really see my husband and myself being that couple if we lived then. The humor, the house building, the decorating, the family, it just seems to feel good and I have watched it many times.”

She also loves her girdle and stockings. “An older person said to my vintage friend and I recently, 'I can't believe you choose to wear that thing' (as they had to wear them back in the day) and I said, 'I think because we don't have to wear it, it is more enjoyable, but I love how it feels as if it is sort of hugging me through the day.' "

50’s Gal also said that she will never go back to pantyhose. She is very tall (almost 6 '), and she could never find nylons that would fit properly. “With stockings, they are a dream. In fact my girdle and stockings are so comfortable and I have become so accustomed to wearing heels, that I have caught myself in the middle of my housework still in my heels and stockings, if I had forgot to change after my shopping.”

This 50’s Gal also loves her vanity, which it is made up of vintage things, like her three-way fold mirror and her etched glass jewel boxes. “I feel the most vintage and lady-like when I am set at my vanity with all my pretty things and jewels in their place. Perfume bottles, the scent of Channel no. 5 my silver comb and hand mirror. It makes you sit down and take stock of yourself before you start your day or an evening out. Never again will I lean perched over a sink under harsh light trying to put on makeup while my products fall all over the bathroom floor. No thank you.”

50’s Gal describes her personal 1955 style as a very conservative classic. “I like full skirts and petticoats, but also well fit jackets and pencil skirts. Tweed is a must. Silk scarves. A lady must have a hankie. Gloves and pillbox hats. I enjoy fur, both coat and wraps (even those opposed to fur can wear vintage, as the poor animal has been gone so long, it would be a waste to dispose of it after all that). I wear dungarees and trousers and flats to clean, I garden in an old flannel shirt of my hubby's tied at the waist, straw hat and gardening gloves. I adore coats and have a few swing coats as well as my beloved fur I received for this valentines day 1955. I am not the 'cutesy' style mave. I think flirty dresses with cherries and such are darling, but I think I may be too old to really pull them off. I prefer more staid mature colors and patterns. I think my clothing choice would be somewhere between Katherine Hepburn and the mother on Father Knows Best."

One discovery she found due to this project is cold cream. “It is wonderful and does wonders for your skin. I won't be paying for overpriced modern skin creams and ointments anymore. It works great to remove makeup and a daily face wash. It really leaves your skin soft.” She uses face powder and liquid eyeliner to make the fuller lash line of the era. “I tried false eyelashes, which I enjoy wearing but can't seem to get the knack of the glue! I mean to start having a specific day every week where I give myself a proper manicure. I do try and keep polish on most days.” 50’s Gal often sets her hair 2-3 times a week. She wears her hair up in a French twist or a ponytail for housework or in a headscarf.

She and her vintage friend take turns on every Saturday making a vintage meal and of course dress vintage and try to do something vintage, as play cards, listen to records etc. “I hope one day to see if I could form a sort of Vintage Club in my area. I even have a venue I could use as our clubhouse. We shall see if that could become a reality.”

What have you learned so far about your project. “I have learned so much already from my project and I am only three months in. There is really too much to list. I say check out my blog to see what I have learned, what I hope to learn, and what I probably will learn in the 'future'. Responsibility for your actions, maturity, organization, respect these are basic elements to a well-adjusted adult and I feel I am really just learning them now or at least learning what they really mean and how to improve upon them.”

We asked her what advice would she give to anyone that want to do a project like this.
“I think I would recommend anyone try it at least. And if not to the extreme I am going, at least look back. Read the history, fiction, and magazines of earlier generations to better understand your own. It will help you to bring back things that maybe should not have been left by the wayside and to appreciate what you have now that those generations did not have. Many times you may find you don't actually need the things we now believe we cannot live without. I think history and study and education (even self-disciplined education) is important for anyone in any walk of life. And I really hope that whatever vintage may mean or come to be, that in looking back we can all have the knowledge to plan forward."

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50's Gal

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